Thursday, January 6, 2011

Kenny Garrett • Human Nature (from “Miles In Paris”) transcription

From the Warner Bros. DVD Miles In Paris, recorded 1990.

Kenny Garrett Human Nature transcription
This Kenny Garrett solo, from the Miles In Paris DVD recorded in 1990, has become a YouTube (and Daily Motion) classic (there's a link at the end of this post), for good reason: first of all, Kenny plays beautifully here, offering a fine demonstration of how to build a solo over a single-chord vamp. It also doesn't hurt that there's some extra-musical drama afoot in the performance: Kenny's clip-on mic wasn't working, and he's seen signaling the problem to Miles. Miles beckons him to center stage anyways, having him play into Miles' own clip-on mic, still attached to his trumpet. And that trumpet, of course, is being held by the Prince of Darkness himself: Miles becomes the funkiest and most intimidating damn mic stand you've ever seen. (It's right at this point, at the beginning of Kenny's solo, where most of the YouTubes pick up the action, but it's worth catching the whole thing on DVD...)

Garrett plays, during these unusual circumstances, inches away from Miles and his inscrutable gaze, without any apparent hesitation or ill effect, as if he and Miles do this kind of weird Miles-all-up-in-your-face shit all the time. (Who knows: maybe they did? Or maybe by the time you get to the level of playing with Miles, you're beyond intimidation.) His solo is masterful and worthy of some serious study — it's all about time-feel and articulation and harmonic resourcefulness and rhythm and building tension.

(By the way, it's also worth searching on YouTube for the Miles in Warsaw 1988 concert — if it's available commercially, I haven't found it. On that version of Human Nature, Kenny's mic is working fine. Miles, freed from his role as human mic stand, ventures to his keyboard to occasionally jab some off-the-wall, say what? chord into the mix. Kenny responds to Miles' unpredictable harmonic provocations with a solo that ventures much further "out there," into more bracing harmonic turf than he explores here, in this later outing in Paris...)

A few comments on what Kenny does here:
  1. He gets a lot of mileage out of the F# minor pentatonic scale (F# A B C# E), as you might expect over an F# minor vamp. Although he certainly goes far beyond this scale (see below), sometimes he'll really settle into the minor pentatonic tonality for a bit — so that when he finally breaks from it, as when he hits the D# in measure 29, it's almost shocking and refreshing — even though D# is a consonant note in this context.

  2. His side-slipping* scale of choice is a half-step BELOW the tonality — in other words, he'll typically slot into F minor (and occasionally F7) to systematically go out, then pop back into F# minor for that refreshing ah!-moment release of tension. Examples abound, but mm. 11 and 91 are especially clear on this front.

    This was surprising to me, as my "default" side-slipping approach is typically to go a half-step ABOVE the tonality. This is probably getting pretty jazz-nerdy, and I apologize for that, but going below, as Kenny does here, is "outer" and cooler. Here's why: playing a half-step above the tonality (G minor or G7 here) can harmonically imply that you're playing the tritone substitution of the V7 chord (C#7 would be the V7 chord here; G7 the tritone sub, of course), one of the most venerable and common harmonic gambits in a jazz player's toolkit. So the listener might perceive that and "validate" it within that context.

    However, playing down a half-step does not imply any typical and "valid" harmonic approach, so there's no "safe" way for a listener to hear it and categorize it. It's just ... out! And therefore, the resolution is perhaps even more satisfying.

    (*If you'd indeed even consider this side-slipping: a fellow poster on the Sax On The Web board didn't — he thought this was just garden-variety "takin' it out." If anybody has an opinion on this, I'd love to hear it, since "side-slipping" isn't an entirely codified term. Or is it? Anybody with further insight in this, feel free to comment!)

  3. Check out how "exotic" and hip the MAJOR 3rd sounds over this minor vamp, around m. 17. It would normally be considered, what?, not viable? naughty? Whatever, it can be a very hip sound — but it has to be handled carefully. Garrett typically "prepares" and "resolves" this otherwise very dissonant sound by surrounding it with the minor 3rd. The minor 3rds become a sort of lead canister to contain the "radioactive" major 3rd. The minor 3rds are the tongs used to safely handle the boiling beaker containing the major 3rd. The minor 3rds are the Hazmat suit that permits handling the corrosive major 3rd.

    To put it another way: the overextended metaphor is employed by the look-at-me-writing-something author here to explain a straightforward concept.

  4. So, howzabout that D harmonic minor tonality starting at m. 54? Where did THAT come from? Whatever, it sounds really cool, and you should rip this off. People "in the know" might nod...

  5. I dig how when Kenny starts doing that rhythmic shtick on the A, starting around m. 60 (both here and in the altissimo tremolos he does toward the end, the "alternate As" are achieved by putting down the right hand D, E, and F keys, while fingering A in the left), he STOPS doing it right at the point where folks start hollering. And lest you think it's just a cheap trick, remember that it is Kenny's faultlessly hip groove and articulation that make this cool.
There's lots of other cool stuff here that defies simple classification. Check it out and play with it and have fun! NOTE: buy the DVD! But, while you're waiting for it to arrive, this solo regularly appears (and then disappears, since it violates copyright rules...) on YouTube and Daily Motion — as I'm writing this, it can be seen here: Kenny Garrett - Saxofon Solo.

Don't have the recording? You can get it from Amazon in the following formats:

DVD of Miles In Paris

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